Eighteen years ago, I lost the full use of my legs. I have no sensation on my right side. My left side has no awareness of location. It’s complicated to walk. My legs are heavy with neuropathic pain. I navigate the world slowly, assisted by a cane.
I continually work at strengthening my lower limbs. In warmer months, I circle our cul-de-sac after dinner - husband, Border collie, and me with two walking sticks – intently micro-calibrating and adjusting my bifurcated stride.
At the gym, I set the treadmill to its lowest setting, and practice pushing through on my left foot. Heel to toe, heel to toe – becomes my kinetic mantra. In the pool, cold water quiets spastic muscles, diminishes the pain. I bend knees, flex feet, swing legs, and then swim to strengthen my core. Time is suspended between three strokes and a breath as I do laps.
With yoga, I stretch to re-center and find my balance. What poses I can’t do, I visualize. The soles of both feet have almost no connection to the ground, so I stand on mystery with faith that somehow the world will hold me up. All this, not to get better, just to persist.
I find a different kind of mobility with my Shetland pony. I harness her up to a two-wheel open cart and off we go with me seated behind her. Gravity cannot compromise our dancing together, since legs are not engaged in driving. I communicate through my arms, voice, and whip. Long reins are offered with firm, but giving hands as we work on gait changes. For these fleeting moments, I am not disabled.
Unlike humans who look straight ahead, horses have peripheral vision. As I drive her, I must embrace the entire arena. There can be five or six riders at the same time and our animals are keenly aware of each other. The herd mentality is always present. One misstep can set off all of the other horses, crow-hopping sideways off stride. Staying calm and centered is essential for a productive working session.
In the pasture, I stand next to the pony as she grazes and try to experience the world as she does - 180 degrees and beyond. As I give myself over to the horizons, the interconnectedness of us all becomes obvious – as if the pony and I become porous and dissolve into the expanse.
Honing my peripheral vision has also helped my walking. Before I focused intently, looking down and placing one tentative foot in front of the other. Now I embrace the larger world around me as I ambulate more assertively at home, in my office, on the street, and with my pony at the barn.